Nemrut or Nemrud is a 2,134 m (7,001 ft) high mountain in southeastern Turkey, notable for the summit where a number of large statues are erected around what is assumed to be a royal tomb from the 1st century BC.
The name is a relatively modern one, dating back to the Middle Ages. In Armenian legend, Hayk defeated the Biblical king Nimrod (equated with Bel) and buried him in these mountains. The conquering Arabs gave many ancient ruins they encountered the name Nimrud, including the famous Assyrian capital.
The mountain lies 40 km (25 mi) north of Kahta, near Ad?yaman. In 62 BC, King Antiochus I Theos of Commagene built on the mountain top a tomb-sanctuary flanked by huge statues 8–9 m (26–30 ft) high of himself, two lions, two eagles and various Greek, Armenian, and Iranian gods, such as Vahagn-Hercules, Aramazd-Zeus or Oromasdes (associated with the Iranian god Ahura Mazda), Bakht-Tyche, and Mihr-Apollo-Mithras. These statues were once seated, with names of each god inscribed on them. The heads of the statues have at some stage been removed from their bodies, and they are now scattered throughout the site.
The pattern of damage to the heads (notably to noses) suggests that they were deliberately damaged as a result of iconoclasm. The statues have not been restored to their original positions. The site also preserves stone slabs with bas-relief figures that are thought to have formed a large frieze. These slabs display the ancestors of Antiochus, who included Armenian, Greek and Persians.
The same statues and ancestors found throughout the site can also be found on the tumulus at the site, which is 49 m (161 ft) tall and 152 m (499 ft) in diameter. It is possible that the tumulus was built to protect a tomb from tomb-robbers since any excavation would quickly fill with loose rock. The statues appear to have Greek-style facial features, but Armenian clothing and hair-styling.
The western terrace contains a large slab with a lion, showing the arrangement of stars and the planets Jupiter, Mercury and Mars on 7 July 62 BC. This may be an indication of when construction began on this monument. The eastern portion is well preserved, being composed of several layers of rock, and a path following the base of the mountain is evidence of a walled passageway linking the eastern and western terraces. Possible uses for this site is thought to have included religious ceremonies, due to the astronomical and religious nature of the monument.
The arrangement of such statues is known by the term hierothesion. Similar arrangements have been found at Arsameia on Nymphaios at the hierothesion of the father of Antiochus, Mithridates I Callinicus.
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When the Seleucid Empire was defeated by the Romans in 190 BC at the Battle of Magnesia it began to fall apart and new kingdoms were established on its territory by local authorities. Commagene, one of the Seleucid successor states, occupied a land between the Taurus mountains and the Euphrates. The state of Commagene had a wide range of cultures which left its leader from 62 BC – 38 BC Antiochus I Theos to carry on a peculiar dynastic religious program, which included not only Armenian, Greek and Persian deities but Antiochus and his family as well. This religious program was very possibly an attempt by Antiochus to unify his multiethnic kingdom and secure his dynasty's authority.
Antiochus supported the cult as a propagator of happiness and salvation. Many of the ruins on Mount Nemrud are monuments of the imperial cult of Commagene. The most important area to the cult was the tomb of Antiochus I, which was decorated with colossal statues made of limestone. Although the imperial cult did not last long after Antiochus, several of his successors had their own tombs built on Mount Nemrud. For around half of the year, Mount Nemrud is covered in snow,the effect of which increases weathering, which has in part caused the statues to fall in ruin.
The site was excavated in 1881 by Karl Sester, a German engineer assessing transport routes for the Ottomans. Subsequent excavations have failed to reveal the tomb of Antiochus. This is nevertheless still believed to be the site of his burial. The statues, all of them "beheaded", have not been restored to their original condition.
In 1987, Mount Nemrut was made a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Tourists typically visit Nemrut during April through October. The nearby town of Ad?yaman is a popular place for car and bus trips to the site, and one can also travel from there by helicopter. There are also overnight tours running out of Malatya or Kahta.
The Adiyaman Province of Turkey in the south east of the country is not wealthy – it is still classified as a developing rural region. Yet 25 miles from the small town of Kâhta the visitor discovers the remnants of once fabulous wealth. High on the summit of Mount Nemrut is a huge but little visited necropolis, home to the beheaded gods of the past.
There were also gods – a syncretism of Iranian, Armenian and Greek which testify to the cultural mix of the area two thousand years ago. Hercules is there, as is Zeus, Tyche and Apollo. Their names were inscribed upon them – those Greek ones we recognize from books and movies as well as their Iranian and Armenian counterparts – Vahagn, Aramazd and Ahura Mazda.
Antiochus was half Armenian and half Greek – another reason why his tomb reflects more than just a single culture. This area was a true cross-road of peoples but there was but a single enemy at the time – the Romans. Antiochus managed to keep his kingdom of Commagene independent, even while many Anatolian territories were being annexed. The enemy became a treasured ally.
Antiochus was already part of a dynasty but he wanted to see this preserved. So he created a royal cult and his tomb was built in order for his vassals to worship him after his death. A Greek inscription reveals that he was buried here at the roof of his world as a sign of his parity with the gods.
The complex on Mount Nemrut (or Nemrut Dagi as it is locally known) was built so that many religious festivals could be held there. He commanded that his birthday should be celebrated on the 16th of each and every month and his coronation celebrated likewise on the 10th. To afford this he bought up wealth generating estates and properties which were legally bound to the sites.
He put in charge whole families with a vested interest in keeping this particular status quo. The priests of the tomb complex were to instruct their sons in administering the estates and so ensure that these celebrations would last in perpetuity. Or so Antiochus imagined.
Yet times change and at some point in the history there was a collective effort to demolish the statues – to bring down the gods of old. All of the statues have been decapitated – their heads roughly removed from their bodies. Archaeologists placed them upright but have not attempted to re-attach the head to the bodies. So, their dismembered heads lie where they fell.
Over the centuries people forgot about Antiochus’ tomb. Then in 1883 an engineer from Germany, Charles Sester, was assessing transport routes for the Ottoman Empire. He discovered more than he had bargained for. As he and his team dug they rediscovered the beheaded gods for the world.
We know that the damage was intentional as there is a pattern to it, particularly their noses. When and exactly why it was done is lost to history. The area is under snow for several months a year and so the statues have naturally weathered too, making it difficult to ascertain when injury came to the gods of Mount Nemrut.
Yet despite the distance from their bodies the heads of these gods are still magnificent and their divinely icy stares still demand something – if not worship then certainly awe. The ruins of the tomb-sanctuary of Antiochus are magnificent to behold even today.
Mount Nemrut ( Nemrut Dagi in Turkish) is a monumental site belonging to the Kingdom of Commagene, a small, independent Armenian kingdom that was formed in 162 B.C. This was a period during which the once mighty Seleucid Empire was beginning to disintegrate, allowing certain areas of its empire to break free from the centralised control of the Seleucids. Located in the eastern Taurus mountain range in southern Turkey, near the town of Adiyaman, Mount Nemrut is home to an ancient complex built by the fourth, and arguably the most famous, king of Commagene, Antiochus I Theos (the ‘God King’).
King Antiochus I, ruler of Commagene from 70 BC to 36BC, was a most unusual king. He claimed descent from Greek conqueror Alexander the Great on his mother’s side, and from the Persian King Darius the Great on his father’s side, thus combining the west and the east. But what was particularly salient about this king was his unerring pride and his over-extended ego. Antiochus I claimed he had a special relationship with the gods and instituted a royal cult in the Greek form of the religion Zoroastrianism with the clear intention of being worshipped as a god after his death.
King Antiochus I practised astrology of a very esoteric kind, and laid the basis for a calendrical reform, by linking the Commagene year, which till then had been based on the movements of the Sun and Moon, to the Sothic-Anahit (Star of Sirius) and Hayk (Star of Orion) cycle used by the Egyptians as the basis of their calendar. This would suggest that Antiochus was knowledgeable about, if not fully initiated into Hermeticism.
Antiochus commissioned the construction of a magnificent religious sanctuary on Mount Nemrut (Nemrud Dagi), a 2,100 metre high mountain where people could come and pray to him. Antiochus wanted his sanctuary to be in a high and holy place, close to the gods in order to be in rank with them, and high enough that the whole kingdom could see it and remember him. The tomb-sanctuary was built in 62 BC and consists of a pyramid-shaped mound of stone chips with a diameter of 145 m and was 50 m in height. Two antique processional routes radiate out from the east and west terraces. The scale of this structure and the amount of labour that was required to build it are impressive on their own. Nevertheless, it is the cultural assimilation reflected in this monument that sets it apart from most other superstructures.
Antiochus himself called Mount Nemrut the hierothesion, or the ‘common dwelling place of all the gods next to the heavenly thrones’. This attempt to gather all the known gods on Mount Nemrut can be seen on the eastern and western terraces of the mound. On the eastern terrace of Mount Nemrut, there is a row of five colossal limestone statues. An identical row of statues can be found on the western terrace. These seated statues face outwards from the tumulus, and are flanked by a pair of guardian animal statues – a lion on one end and an eagle on the other. An inscription refers to the summit as a sacred resting place where Antiochus, the ‘God King’ would be laid to rest and his soul would join those of other deities in the celestial realm.
Based on the inscriptions at their bases, the statues have been identified as representing Antiochus I himself, the All-Nourishing Commagene, Zeus-Oromasdes, Apollo-Mithras-Helios-Hermes and Artagnes-Herakles-Ares. The statue of Antiochus I shows that the Hellenistic ruler cult was adopted by the Commagenian king. This adoption of Hellenistic religious practice is reinforced by the presence of standard Hellenistic deities such as Zeus, Apollo and Ares. Yet, at the same time, Eastern deities, such as Oromasdes and Mithras are merged with their Hellenistic counterparts. Thus, one is able to see that Antiochus I was attempting to achieve a kind of religious syncretism. Antiochus I’s effort to bring together East and West can also be seen in the two rows of sandstone stelae mounted on pedestals. On one row of stelae, relief sculptures of Antiochus’ paternal Persian ancestors can be seen, while the other row of stelae depicts his maternal Macedonian ancestors. Thus, Antiochus was able to use his illustrious genealogy to justify his claim to the Commagenian throne. Perhaps the building on Mount Nemrut was an effort by Antiochus to solidify his reign and that of his successors.